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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #677

90s_revisited

action_comics_0677“…In Love and War!”

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Cover: Art Thibert, Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Dan Thorsland
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 1992
Cover Price: $1.00

This issue details the background and a then-new status quo with Supergirl, and Lex Luthor II, the son of the late Lex Luthor, arch-enemy of Superman. We see this young couple as they’re new to each other, Luthor curious about this Supergirl’s background, and she’s totally fallen for him, as he’s a visual doppelganger at least to the man who created her and gave her life in a pocket/alternate universe. That background–that readers saw over the course of The Supergirl Saga and subplot elements following, and things that came out in the Panic in the Sky story–is recounted here, as Supergirl tells Luthor. This also serves as further introduction for newer readers as to this Supergirl, her background, and her abilities. Meanwhile, we get touchpoints in other subplots–Jimmy Olsen had been fired but now recently re-hired to the Daily Planet. Perry had been gone, but now is back, and we see him meeting a Ron Troupe. We also see development in stuff with Cat Grant and her career, as well as Sam Foswell, who had temporarily held Perry’s job. We also see Clark and Lois spending time together as a newly-engaged couple and whatnot, as well as reporters. And then the “core” of the issue, as Luthor announces Supergirl has joined Lexcorp, and Clark is quite concerned about what she may have let slip to Luthor–about him, his parents, and so on. The Superman/Supergirl discussion gets heated, she instinctively lashes out, and this physical altercation is caught on camera by one of Luthor’s cameramen–accompanying him as he pursued the Super-duo, trying to keep tabs on his girl. Though Luthor demands the tape from his man and promises it will never see air while he’s around, he neglects to destroy it, which keeps Superman at a certain point of unease, as we see that this bright, charming son of Luthor has a certain questionable, dark streak to him…that as the issue fades out, indicates could be quite threatening indeed.

In retrospect, this is quite a “key” issue, primarily on the Supergirl and Team Luthor front. In fact, much of this issue was pretty directly adapted in the Dirk Maggs audio drama Superman Lives!, which adapted the novelization Superman: Doomsday and Beyond based on this and other comics in the Death and Return of Superman saga.

I quite enjoy Stern‘s writing, and the Guice/Rodier visuals. Everyone looks as I remember them from this time frame…which would be expected, given the pretty consistent nature of the creative teams on the books in 1992, into the Death of Superman stuff and beyond. I even recognized Foswell, as much by name as appearance, given a story this issue is a few months from at this point.

Story-wise, this packs a LOT into a single, regular-sized issue’s page-allotment. Of course, this was in the midst of the best of the “Triangle Numbering” period, where the Superman titles all had their own focused subplots, but collectively served as a nearly-weekly ongoing singular title (with ongoing elements, but Action Comics really taking the reins on dealing with Luthor II’s background, for example, or Superman: The Man of Steel taking the reins on the underworlders, etc).

I remember being aware of this issue for awhile before acquiring a copy for myself back in 1993 or ’94–whenever it was that I actually did. I was even more aware of what the content of the issue was, thanks to the Stern novelization The Death and Life of Superman, which included loads of continuity detail from the Man of Steel mini-series by Byrne through key issues up to and including the actual Doomsday!, Funeral for a Friend, and Reign of the Supermen run. Finding that this one issue alone had so much key stuff that factored into the larger story–the comics AND Stern‘s novel–is quite cool on this read-through. It seems so odd in 2018, snagging this for 25 cents to recall that it was not an issue simply or readily available to me as a kid–and I think I may have paid $3-5 for it as a “priced back issue,” at the time.

While many of the “random” single issues from this time period might be relatively inconsequential, this one, and I believe the next, are a couple of rather “crucial” issues, and are much more worthwhile to pick up as single issues than most. That said, a lot of my enjoyment here is from being quite familiar with the history and context of these characters, including knowledge of information that had not quite yet been revealed when this saw publication and would have been originally read…and knowing where things go, and hence how important this is. It’ll be much more enjoyable to one familiar with this period of the Superman comics, or going through everything from the time, than as a one-off if you’ve no familiarity with the time or the Death/Return/etc.

I paid a whopping 25 cents for this particular copy…and that was well worth it to me to revisit this without digging through longboxes looking for a copy, or even having to deal with lugging a box off a storage rack just to get at it.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #684

90s_revisited

action_comics_0684…Domsday is Near!

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Art Thibert and Denis Rodier
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Triangle #: 1992/48

I like when an issue’s title is worked into its title page…all the more after recently re-noticing the way Marvel "cheats" by having a non-story page for credits/story titles that can simply be omitted from a collected volume to ignore the fact the story was serialized first.

Here, we open on a couple screens of news reports recapping recent goings-on and leaving off that authorities are trying to determine if "…Doomsday is Near!" We then pick back up with Superman, Guardian, and Maxima, and Guardian is no longer worried about lecturing Superman, and Superman has him get Maxima to a hospital while he–Superman–resumes taking on the Doomsday creature. Superman catches up to Doomsday after it takes out an overpass and hurls a car–Superman saves the car and driver. Then Doomsday wrecks a Lex-Mart (think Walmart)…but is able to take in a loud commercial from a tv about a wrestling match in METROPOLIS…and the creature is taught a word, a destination. Lois and Jimmy are on-site in a helicopter reporting on things, Lex Luthor II and Supergirl watch tv reports, and Luthor convinces Supergirl to stay put, to not leave Metropolis unprotected. Trying to get Doomsday away from populated areas, Superman hurls him into the distance, forgetting about Cadmus’ "Habitat" facility (fortunately deserted). Guardian catches up while the combatants are both stunned, and then Doomsday breaks free of the wreckage (knocking out the two heroes) and bounds onward, now intentionally bound for Metropolis.

This issue’s art is not bad at all…but the visual style is something different from both Jurgens and Grummett in a way I just don’t like the same way. Nothing’s particularly "off" in anyone’s anatomy; everyone is recognizable as who they are; I have no trouble following the flow of physical events and the story itself. I just prefer the former to Guice and Rodier here. That said, there are some stand-out moments to me–I do like how Supergirl looks (though she doesn’t get to "do" much here), and same for Lois. The wrestler in the commercial Doomsday sees reminds me very much of Hulk Hogan, which may have been the intention at the time (remember, this was 25 years ago that this saw print!).

Story-wise, this flows pretty well from the previous chapter, picking up much like an opening of a tv show where it’s not exactly frame-for-frame picking up, but picking up within the same scene within moments of where we left off. Though most of the issue is more battle, we get the "moments" between characters–Superman and Guardian; Lois and Jimmy; Supergirl and Luthor, etc. There’s no context given on Supergirl and Luthor…their status quo and presence were very much a part of "continuity" of the time…so they were just there, to be understood by longer-time readers or simply glossed over if one wasn’t familiar with stuff.

I hadn’t given it much thought, but as this issue continues the "countdown" (three panels per page, down from four), there’s more visual/unspoken action, and in a way, that leaves less room for story, and a quicker pace. We jump scene to scene essentially, but it works, as the whole battle is drawing out…we’re down to basically just Superman, as Maxima’s out and by the looks of things (and memory), Guardian’s basically out, and we already saw the rest of the Justice League taken out.

This is definitely another issue that doesn’t have much going for it in terms of being stand-alone; it is definitely very much a middle chapter of a tight, full story spread across multiple titles by multiple creative teams. Of course, it’s not a bad one if you come across it in a bargain bin to snag, but much more enjoyable in context of the full story. I do feel like–next to Justice League America #69–this is the issue of the story I’ve seen least in bargain bins, though come to think of it, Superman #74 may be similar.

This is the fourth of the Superman titles carrying the Doomsday! story–with the next two chapters being second issues of their titles with the story, before the Funeral for a Friend picks up.

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The ’80s Revisited: The Flash (1987) #1

flash(1987)_0001Flash

Writer: Mike Baron
Penciller: Jackson Guice
Inker: Larry Mahlstedt
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Mike Gold
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: June, 1987
Cover Price: 75 Cents

I’ve been quite aware of The Flash–particularly Wally–since my initial foray into comics back in 1989/1990…my earliest conscious exposure to the character offhand was Adventures of Superman #463. Mr. Mxyzptlk forced the two to race…and this stands out to me because of the fact of Wally constantly eating, the notion that even with the super-speed, he was still burning calories and all that (to my 8/9 year old self, the simple “have to eat to keep going” was enough). I became more aware of the character with guest-appearances here and there, and the “key” role he played at the start of Zero Hour, and as I learned more about “continuity” and such, I became aware of Barry and generally got to where the Flash was an accepted character for me.

I didn’t start picking up any issues of his actual series on any regular basis, though, until #197 (Geoff Johns, first issue of the Blitz arc) in 2003 or so, and I’ve moved forward from there. I’ve become aware of several creative teams, and it was all the positive “buzz” for Mark Waid‘s run and then the (at the time) up and coming Geoff Johns that eventually led to me trying the series. But outside of maybe a couple issues, I really have never actually gotten (around) to reading Wally’s series, particularly from this period.

So jumping into #1 here rather arbitrarily was definitely an interesting experience.

We open on Wally–now 20–at a convenience store and come to find out he’s marking time before a “surprise” party for his 20th birthday. He’s no longer a teenager (and now being The Flash and not Kid Flash, no longer a “teen” Titan). He’s “graduated” into the role, stepping into the costume previously worn by Barry Allen, and he’s got huge boots to fill. Before the party can really get rolling, Wally receives a phone call: a heart is available for a transplant…in Seattle. And conventional technology cannot get it there in time, so it’s up to Wally to race the heart to the opposite coast. He extracts some conditions, pointing out that he’s doing a favor, and these doctors are getting paid huge sums, but he (Wally) could use medical insurance (wow…30 years ago!) and such…that it’s the principle of the matter. (To say nothing of the fact that he needs the calories for such an extensive trip). Along the way Wally encounters someone who was apparently attacked by Vandal Savage, and witnesses other situations he can’t stop for…but he eventually arrives and the transplant’s a success, and (after 17 hours’ sleep) Wally gets to meet the patient, who conveniently has some knowledge of (at least the rumour of) Vandal Savage. After being returned home (via plane), Wally receives a package…with a heart–and meets Vandal Savage.

I just double-checked…and this issue is “only” 22 pages of story. So much in it, and clear to follow, and it’s all crammed into 22 pages. We meet the main character, and start off on this key day–he’s now The Flash (not Kid Flash), he’s just turned 20; we see him with friends/teammates for context; we get details about who he is, what he is, how he got here, limitations of his powers, etc; we see him in action AS the Flash; clear differences between THIS Flash and his predecessor are highlighted; immediate threats overcome and a new threat set up, and close on the introduction of a “big bad” for the upcoming issues. Basically, this is an excellent sort of first issue!

This issue looks and feels like a mid/late-’80s book…which is quite appropriate. Guice‘s art is top-notch, and I really like it here. The detail may not quite be quite the level of, say, George Perez of this time, but it’s quite good and works very well for me, with all relevant characters looking as I’d expect for my contextual knowledge of the time, they look familiar/recognizable, and the visuals never failed me as to what was going on.

Story-wise, as said, this is an excellent first issue with numerous “bullet points” touched on that I would hope and expect a first issue to do…I genuinely want to read the next issue, such that I find myself thinking I’d willingly buy the next several issues at “full back issue pricing” (up to $2-$3 per) just for the sake of immediacy on getting to read them (or $1.99 for digital; same reasoning).

I really like that we get a concrete age for Wally–I’m not sure how old I’d’ve pegged him by the early 200s (probably mid-20s at least), and concrete ages don’t often seem to be established for characters. While I get that many don’t want to nail characters down or “limit” them that way, I’m one that really likes that sort of detail, even if it comparatively “ages” other characters. I also really like that Wally seems young-ish (I’m in my mid-30s myself!) and I truly get that sense of his just now stepping up into the Flash role–I can “see” the Kid Flash there, essentially “trying on” the “real Flash” costume; he wears it but does not seem particularly comfortable in it. (And I know from other stuff I’ve read ABOUT the series that that’s something that largely continues for a number of years of stories, such that the reader gets to see Wally’s progression to where he truly comes into his own as The Flash).

I enjoyed this issue, and it was honestly a real treat to read. I know I snagged this copy from a quarter bin, and it’s absolutely worth 25 cents, or $1…as a #1 from when such things were treats and rarities, I’d say this would even be well worth getting up to $5ish. As you can get it digitally for about $2, I wouldn’t recommend going much above that, though, unless you’re particularly interested in owning this issue. It’s well worth the $2 to at least read, and I very much look forward to digging up the next few issues, either from my own collection or re-buying in some form for the immediacy.

Zero Hour Revisited – Action Comics #703

90srevisited_zerohour

action_comics_0703Chronocide!

Writer: David Michelinie
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Associate Editor: Frank Pittarese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

This is an interesting sort of issue, though the cover puts me off a bit. It’s been a generic sort of image to me, one I haven’t really–truly–looked at in years, just sort of glossing over it, recognizing it, and that’s it, because of it being what it is. It sort of deals with the interior story, though it’s a bit misleading, suggesting Superman abandoning Lois to the Entropy thing of this story, saving himself…when the story is more his facing that sort of loss of his parents, and Lois is the last one standing.

Clark returns to the Daily Planet, having done HIS part, and leaving/trusting the other heroes to do their part. But then, Perry White fades out and Superman realizes they’ve failed. And if Time has been destroyed as recently as Perry’s birth, then his own parents–Ma and Pa Kent–won’t be far behind. So he races to them, but just as he arrives at the farm, finds himself in an alternate timeline/dimension with a younger version of his parents, and where the rocket that brought him to Earth was retrieved, while he had died as an infant. Superman and the younger Kents eventually find themselves faced with reality of Time’s destruction, and just as Superman’s about to save his own parents, he’s pulled into the Timestream for the final moments of Zero Hour, while the world–our perspective ending with Lois’ account of the approaching whiteness–is wiped out, going to the white pages ending all of the ZH books that shared this final week of July 1994.

With the Superman titles all tying in, we’ve seen Superman meet numerous alternate-timeline/universe versions of Batman; we’ve seen him meet a version of his biological parents from Krypton; an alternate super-hero filling his role on another Earth; and now an alternate version of his Earth-parents. All while essentially being part of the ongoing running battle with Extant and the power behind even him. It’s both cool in the sense that we get to see Superman stories taking advantage of the time-anomalies stuff; but stretches stuff a bit to figure all this PLUS his involvement in the "main story." Still, as flimsy as explanations are between his "side stories" and the main, both seem to stand alone pretty well.

I’m not overly fond of the art here, and yet it still triggers the nostalgia factor for me, and I both recognize and remember it. It fits the story and is definitely a product of its time, and I don’t know what I’d do for replacing it. It’s not bad art, just not my favorite art.

Given Dan Jurgens‘ role in Zero Hour itself and obvious ties on the Super-team, the Superman titles in general fit better with Zero Hour than most; and I certainly have better, clearer memory of them as part of the event, and their being a huge part of my exposure to the DC Universe beyond the event itself, so I’m certainly a bit biased. That said, I do feel like this does more to reference the actual, developing story of Zero Hour (if not itself further developing that story) than most other tie-ins. Even so, this hardly seems essential, and will be more of interest to someone reading through the Superman books of the time than someone just reading the "core" Zero Hour series.

Certainly not an issue worth paying more than $1 or so for; but not something to singularly avoid in a bargain bin, either.

We’re finally nearing the end of this event as a whole, and for that, I’m definitely glad.

Zero Hour Revisited – Guy Gardner: Warrior #24

guy_gardner_warrior_0024Killing Time!

Story: Beau Smith
Pencils: Mitch Byrd, Phil Jimenez, Howard Porter, Mike Parobeck
Layouts: Jackson Guice
Inks and Finishes: Dan Davis
Colors: Stuart Chaifetz
Letters: Albert De Guzman
Edits: Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.95

I expected a lot of this issue, and unfortunately found myself rather disappointed. Guy, Steel, Batgirl, and Supergirl face Extant, and are thrown through time, bouncing from dinosaurs to Guy’s own past with a woman he’d loved but who died in Coast City.

Reading this issue as an isolated thing, it just didn’t do much for me. Now, I’m a fan of Guy, and have read at least a couple issues of his series before (including, I think, some sort of Year One story and a followup to Emerald Twilight–so with this, that’s probably at least 10 issues of this series I’ve read). I’m familiar with the character from the Eclipso: The Darkness Within annuals (his appearance in the Adventures of Superman one where he first has the yellow ring) and his being part of the Justice League at the time (Death of Superman stuff), and have gotten a lot more familiar with the character in the 20+ years since.

But this issue just felt like it was all over the place…and all I can REALLY tell is that Guy’s new getup is just that–new–he’s still learning what it (and he himself) can do. That these characters are fighting Extant in this issue, that they’re bouncing around through time–that certainly makes this a nice tie-in to Zero Hour, one that truly deserves that banner on the cover, and serves as a RELEVANT tie-in. So even being all over the place, its "fun factor" is there a bit…though I don’t know that I’d particularly recommend it in and of itself.

Visually, I noticed a mix of art styles–PARTICULARLY toward the end when the visuals went toward something resembling Batman: The Animated Series and Darwyn Cooke…it was not until I keyed out the credits for this post that I realized there were FOUR different pencilers. I’m not sure if it helped having Guice doing layouts or not…except that despite multiple artists it at least kept panels to one vision so nothing was overly "out there" or varying drastically from the others. None of the art singly was bad, but it was a bit jarring going from grittier to simplicity reminiscent of Cooke. Not knowing any behind the scenes stuff regarding this specific issue, I can’t comment on that–but I do definitely appreciate what I know now about comics in general in 2016–where I can "assume" that this issue was running late and so the art was divided up to make sure the issue would be done on time as it is a Zero Hour issue and thus HAD TO be out during Zero Hour, which only lasted one month. And with this ending on the blank pages, that sticks it as intended for the last week of the month…where even a SINGLE WEEK slip would put it out of sync with the event itself.

I don’t care for the cover–I kinda consciously "know" that’s supposed to be Extant’s face…but with the fire effect, just the face looks like this is some other villain or a fire-entity or like some X-Men character or something…show me the image without the Zero Hour banner and I would not at all think "Extant" OR "Zero Hour."

Ultimately, this is (along with Batman #511) probably the closest-tied issue to Zero Hour, making it one that you’d definitely want to read with the main series if you’re going for an all-in experience on the reading. By itself, I would not recommend it AS some destination-issue or to seek out as a single issue. As part of Zero Hour or as part of reading the title in general, I think it fits quite well.

Zero Hour Revisited – Adventures of Superman #516

90srevisited_zerohour

adventures_of_superman0516The Hero of Metropolis

Writer: Karl Kesel
Guest Penciller: Peter Krause
Inker: Jackson Guice
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Albert De Guzman
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Associate Editor: Frank Pittarese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

This is one of those quasi-forgotten issues–one where I remember in broadest strokes the events but it’d been so long since reading it that it was a lot like reading a new comic.

Amidst all the other time-stuff going on, Superman finds himself in an alternate timeline, with many similarities but some rather disconcerting differences. Of course, some of these are things he picks up on as he goes along–realizing, for example, that here, Lois doesn’t even know him, period–let alone know his identity or have feelings for him. And despite the familiarity of Superman, this world’s hero is the Alpha Centurian–a character we’ve apparently seen before but this was the first meeting between him and Superman personally. By issue’s end the situation is revealed and the two are allies, off to dive back into the whole saving-all-of-time-and-space thing.

I think when I saw Alpha Centurian in a previous issue of Zero Hour itself, I assumed he’d already been introduced…my mind just didn’t parse out the details or question anything. And yet, I knew this was where the character comes into the Superman stuff–"that issue with his name on the cover over top of Superman’s." I suppose not having looked ahead to the covers, conscious memory failed me and all that.

Anyway, this is another solid issue that plays firmly into the stuff that Zero Hour is about–that is, Time is mucked up and allows for a bunch of anomalies and parallels and alternates and the like. In this case, we get a new Superman ally…one that (as I recall) becomes a recurring member of the supporting cast for a time–much as a one-season character can be close and important for a single season of a tv show.

At this point, 20+ years after the fact, this issue having a "guest penciller" means little to me, particularly for this specific title. The art’s just the art–neither phenomenal nor bad. It works for the issue, gets everything across, and I’m perfectly fine with that. The story itself is cool, revisiting this "moment" in the history of the Superman story and seeing (again) the first meeting (officially) between the two characters and being thus able to cast my mind back to that summer and the following year or so as this Alpha Centurian was a recurring cast member NOT from Reign of the Supermen, yet I was there "from the beginning."

Superman is front-and-center in Zero Hour itself, so his having time for not just one "side story" but multiples is a bit of a stretch in general…but then, he’d had four ongoing series at this point, all of them tying into Zero Hour (given especially the ongoing/weekly nature of the four Super-books). This was a pleasant read, if not terribly contributative to the ongoing Zero Hour saga. Other than being a sort of first-appearance/first-meeting, it’s not singularly stand-out in a way that screams "go out and read this to thank me later" or anything. Still, if you find it in a bargain bin, it’s worthwhile.

Action Comics #684 [Back-Issue Review]

…Domsday is Near!

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Art Thibert and Denis Rodier
Triangle #: 1992/48

Picking up from the last chapter, Superman and the Guardian (and a fallen Maxima) are in the ruins of the town that’s just been the latest casualty of Doomsday’s rampage. While news reports flood the airwaves, Supergirl itches to go into battle to help Superman, but is talked down by Lex, urging her to stay in Metropolis in case she’s needed–after all, Superman can’t be in any real danger, right? With Lois and Jimmy in one ‘copter and Cat Grant of WGBS in another following the story, Superman hurls Doomsday away from his Metropolis-bound path and into “the Habitat,” an organic city created by the Cadmus project, bringing Cadmus into the fray…though even that doesn’t seem enough to help.

The art style here is a bit different than previous chapters of this story, in a way that is both noticeable and yet hard to describe. No complaints with it, though…it fits the story, conveys the action, and we can see that Superman is getting worn down.

The story isn’t all that deep–we get a few moments of character interactions to show what’s going on WHILE Superman is battling Doomsday (and to explain, for example, why Supergirl holds back). Overall, this continues the long fight scene that makes up much of the story. This does not seem out of place in tone from other chapters, and other than the variation in visuals keeps a great consistenc with earlier chapters.

Something that jumped out at me on this read-through is Lex-Mart, the store destroyed in this issue. I immediately thought of Wal-Mart, but the in-store dialogue reminded me this was probably based on K-Mart…illustrating what a difference 16 yers can make in the real world.

Somehow, this issue often feels like the low part of a totem pole, lost in comparison to the other issues, as this neither begins nor ends the story and even lacks the distinction of a penultimate chapter. Remains a strong chapter none the less, holding well its place within the story, and holding up well through the years.

Story: 8/10
Art: 7.5/10
Whole: 8/10

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